Chapter 58: Quiet

“May the Heavens strike me down if I lie. Again.”
– Dread Emperor Abominable, the Thrice-Struck

No one in living memory had seen a dwarven army take the field, not on the surface anyway. Even with all the dangers swirling around us I’d been looking forward to that part. Since becoming the Squire I’d scrapped either with or to the side of most the famous militaries: the Legions of Terror, the Spears of Stygia, Helikean exiles, both fae Courts. My own people in rebellion, Akua’s host of old breed Praesi. The Tenth Crusade too, though in all fairness I’d seen neither hide nor hair of soldiers that weren’t Proceran in the northern campaign. There was little left to account for. The other cities of the League were hardly known for their soldiery – apparently Bellerophon didn’t even have career officers, which just boggled the mind – and Ashur was primarily a naval power. The Dead King and the Chain of Hunger were the last two contenders, since the elves didn’t really fight wars. I’d be facing the former sooner or later, and the latter was allegedly more horde than host. With the drow having proved to be a pack of squabbling assholes bleeding themselves over the right to be Creation’s ricketiest demigods, the only force of note that remained was the Kingdom Under. Juniper, I thought, would have given her right hand to stand in my shoes right at this moment.

Indrani had led us to the same perch she’d used on earlier trip, and for all that it felt overly exposed it did give us a perfect view of what took place below. She hadn’t been overselling the size of the cavern, I quickly found out. Large as Laure might, if anything, be an understatement. There were a lot more people in Callow’s capital, of course. Maybe half the cavern was taken up by a lake, which to my mild interest revealed itself to be another food source for the locals. There were fish farms, walled in with stones, and what I was pretty sure was crab traps though the creatures writhing inside didn’t look like any crab I’d seen before. Most of the rest was ‘farmland’. Raised stones covered with thick lichen, mushrooms patches and what looked like some strange cousin of potatoes wherever the dirt was thick enough. Most of that was now occupied by the dwarven vanguard. The only drow holdout was the massive stalagmite in the back that Indrani had mentioned, though she hadn’t done the sight of it justice with her short description.

At the base, it was about as thick as fortress. Archer had labelled the path up as a spiral, but the angle was too sharp for the term to really fit. It zig-zagged across the sides of the stalagmite with precision too defined to be anything but manmade, the parts of the path that passed between the stone spire and the wall of the cavern effectively tunnels. There’d been tents there before, but they’d been flattened or taken away by the drow awaiting the assault. Which was coming soon, there were no two ways about it. I could tell as much just by the way the army had been positioned. At the bottom of the stalagmite a force of three thousand was standing patiently, and I’d almost let out a whistle at my first good look. Dwarves were known for their heavy infantry as well as their lethal contraptions, but these soldiers went a step further than I’d expected. It was like looking at walking barrels of steel. It was plate, in the sense that their armour wasn’t mail, but layered so thickly no a spot of dwarf could be seen underneath. Not even the famous beards: the helmets bore face-covering masks that ended in a sculpted steel beard where I assumed their actual beards lay protected. The weight of that should be too heavy for even the famously physically strong dwarves to be able to move in, so while there were no runes to be seen on the surface I assumed some had been inscribed beneath. To a dwarf, they bore long halberds with steel shafts that weighed enough even Hakram would have difficulty swinging one around.

They’re weren’t infantry so much as a company of walking battering rams.

The five thousand remaining dwarves were less heavily armoured, at least. Three divisions of a thousand each wore ornate but otherwise unremarkable plate, with square shields and war hammers. They all had crossbows on their back. I was classifying them as regulars in my mind, though in anyone else’s army they would be heavies. The last thousand was… interesting. The most lightly armoured of the lot, with only steel cuirasses over leather and plumed helmets that left the faces bare. They attended to the three dozen war machines the vanguard had set up in a crescent facing the stalagmite. If Juniper would have given a hand to see the battle, then Pickler would have eaten her firstborn to get a good peek at those. About half the machines looked to be some kind of fat steel ballistas raised on wheeled platforms. Not even the rope was, well, rope. It looked to be some kind of woven metal chord. There were wagons full of spherical projectiles next to them, two per ballista. The remaining half of the engines was hard to classify. The basic shape was like an onager’s, more or less small and portable catapults. What a scorpion was to a ballista, though my sappers would string me up for making so broad a comparison. The similarity ended at the shape, though. The steel base had been nailed to the floor with spikes almost as large as the engine itself, and instead of spheres to throw the already-loaded projectiles looked like elongated battering rams in a metal I did not recognize.

I wasn’t sure what those were meant for, but I doubted the drow would enjoy it.

The last of the dwarves were maybe two hundred, including what I was pretty sure was their command staff. Their armour was closest to that of the regulars, but lined with enough precious stones to steady Callow’s treasury for a good year. Unlike the grunts they were mounted. No horses, though. Best way I could put it was the unholy offspring of a lizard and an insect: the creatures were scaled and their reptilian heads had an impressive set of fangs, but their legs numbered six and were strangely segmented. They had three claws at the end of those, though they looked like they’d been blunted. Those officers were only around four dozen in number, and the remainder was unlike any other troops I’d seen so far. They wore heavy cuirasses and mail beneath them, but no helmet and both hair and beard were almost obsessively braided. Their weapons were not standardized, ranging from greatsword to some kind of chain with spiked weights at the end, but the eye-catching part was the trophies dangling down their bodies. Skulls and claws, stingers and broken weapons. Indrani caught me looking and leaned closer.

“Deed-seekers,” she whispered. “Met of few in Refuge. They’re after things they’re not supposed to get according to other dwarves, so they’re trying to earn enough glory that they become worthy of getting them. Some came up to hunt in the Waning Woods. Heard others go through the gate in Levant to have a tussle with the stuff in the woods there.”

“They any good?” I whispered back.

“Ran across one who broke his hammer on a manticore’s horns so he beat it to death with his bare hands,” she said. “And I’m not talking a juvenile, the thing was fully grown. They’re pretty hardcore. Polite for dwarves, though. Those I met knew surface tongues and they were willing to pay for guides.”

“So crazy of the dangerous kind,” I grunted. “Just what we needed.”

The conversation ended there and for good reason: the dwarves were on the move. There was no horn, no trumpet or warning. The ballistas just shot their first volley and the battle began. The projectiles, round orbs of steel, smacked into the upper reaches of the stalagmite. They’d been denied a better target: the drow were holing up out of sight. Rock shattered under steel and the whole spire shook. My brow rose at the sight. Those hit a lot harder than anything my goblins had ever cooked up.

“Flushing out the drow, you think?” Indrani said.

“If that stalagmite is solid rock, it’ll take them a while to make a dent even with strong engines,” I said.

Twenty heartbeats later the second volley hit, hitting the same places with impressive accuracy. The drow remained in hiding, which I honestly couldn’t fault them for. Between the crossbows and the siege if they made a stand anywhere in the open they’d get slaughtered. Their best shot was to make the dwarves come to them and hold a narrow passage hidden away from the engines. Alas for the locals, it was not to be. Three volleys later the entire stalagmite cracked. I could see the fracture going through the side, jagged and large enough to be easily visible even from where Indrani and I were laying on the floor. The entire top third of the spire had been cracked, at least on the side facing the dwarves. Had the thing been hollow? Maybe. Still, crack or not the weight of that upper third was keeping it in place. My eyes moved to the second kind of engines, anticipating there would be answer to that. My instincts had been correct. The almost-onagers were being seen to, long steel chains being attached to the back of the ram-like projectiles. The chains led to matching cranked wheels, already nailed into the ground.

“They’re going to pull the damned thing down,” I murmured. “Gods.”

How? Even if they put dwarves to work the crank, they shouldn’t be strong enough to apply sufficient pressure. The rams flew and sunk into the stone like a knife through butter, shivering after coming to a rest. There’d been sorcery at work, I thought. Blades unfolding inside to give greater grip? Impossible to tell. Anyhow, my first question got an answer moments later. Only a single dwarf attended to each crank, but the moment they laid hands on them the wheels lit up with runes. Not even thirty heartbeats later, the whole upper third of the spire came toppling down. They’d angled it to it fell into the water instead of on their own troops, though the great splash wet a few of them anyway. My eyes narrowed as I returned my attention to the stalagmite. It was hollow. The drow inside were swarming like a hive that’d just gotten kicked. The angle of steel ballistas was adjusted, projectiles from the second wagons loaded, and the volley arced up moments later. The spheres were stone this time, not steel. I did not wait long to learn why: at the summit of their arc, just above the hollow, they burst. Burning rain fell down, reaping a harvest of screams and death.

“Lava,” I quietly said. “That was fucking lava.”

“I mean, it’s not like they’re ever going to run out,” Indrani mused. “I can see the logic behind it.”

“Don’t you try to make it sound like it’s reasonable to shoot magic lava stones at people, Archer,” I hissed. “Who even does that?”

“The dwarves, evidently,” she said.

Sadly, throttling her might have given away our position so it would have to wait. Our time to move was fast approaching, though. The moment the dwarven infantry engaged we’d be trying our luck at sneaking through. Our exit tunnel had already been picked out, and we had a route across that wouldn’t take us too close to the fighting. The drow had been on the defensive so far, but since it’d become clear that the dwarves had no intention to climb up and the alternative was remaining inside a hole that’d slowly get filled with molten rock they were finally coming out. It was the first time I was having a look at a drow force that wasn’t already a pile of corpses, so they earned my full attention. This is not a professional army, was my first thought. Even Proceran levies had officers and an order of battle, but the drow? This was a tribe of warriors, with not a single soldiers among it. I could make out the hierarchy by the way they were equipped. No steel to be found on any of them, but there were tiers of a sort. The lowest of the low wore skins and leathers, armed with spears and blades. I winced when I noticed some of those blades were bone. That wouldn’t even scratch the dwarven armour.

Higher up the ladder, and fewer in number, there were drow in obsidian and stone. The equipment was not uniform, some of them having what I’d consider decent armour while others wore essentially the same as the first batch only with dangling bits of stronger material over it. Their weapons were mostly iron, of passable make. They’d at least manage to leave a mark on the enemy before being slaughtered. The last and rarest were those I assumed to be Mighty. Only a dozen of them, but they stood out starkly from the rest. Garbed in long flowing robes of Night with shifting plaques of iron in it, they moved swift as arrows through the charging crowd. Spears were the only armament they seemed to wield, with what I was pretty sure were sharpened ruby heads. Wasn’t sure how that would measure up to steel, though I did remember rubies were supposed to be one of the harder gemstones. The whole muster of the sigil was maybe two thousand. They’d get brutalized when they got to the bottom of the spire and engaged the dwarven heavy infantry, but the dwarves seemed disinclined to allow even that.

One of the mounted officers brought a horn to his lips, the first signal of the battle, and the deep call got the regulars moving. The square shields were set down to cover their bodies, crossbows taken out and the proverbial fish in the barrel got that same proverbial end. It was a relief to see that their firing rate was lesser than that of my legionaries. The range, though, was at least double. I would not want to fight those on an open field. The bolts scythed through the drow as they kept charging down the ramp, though only for the lesser warriors. The rest melded into the shadow-state when they saw the volleys approach. The ballistas had never ceased firing, slowly emptying the wagons of projectiles. Lava kept raining down into the hollow spire. The screams hadn’t ended either, and I was fairly sure the only warriors in the cavern were the ones charging to their doom. It would have been interesting to see how Mighty fared against dwarven infantry, but I didn’t intend to stick around until the final clean up. Their attention should be on the drow, for now, and that was our way out. I elbowed Archer and gestured towards our back. She nodded and we crawled out of sight before rising. The others were a short ways back, Akua keeping an eye on them.

They’d been waiting on us, and there was little need for conversation when time finally came to move. The plan was fairly simple. Indrani had the rope and hook to allow us to climb down to the floor of the cavern below, and the drow should have no issue managing it. The only thing up in the air was whether or not our friends would pick up on my use of Winter, and there was no real way to know that without trying it. Glamour shouldn’t draw as much attention as more direct uses, so it was as calculated a risk as we could take. I returned back to the edge, and with a deep breath allowed Winter to slither through my veins. I kept it simple, erasing our presence to the senses – I wasn’t sure whether the dwarven mounts could smell us at a distance, but I wasn’t about to take the risk. The working wasn’t too complicated, but it would take concentration to keep it going. The moment it settled, I glanced down at the battle. The dwarves had not stirred, which was promising. I gestured for the others to begin climbing down.

It was a tense half-hour before everyone made it to the cavern floor, shimmying down before Archer tugged back her rope. I’d not been certain whether or not I could keep the glamour going while having to focus on going down the rope, so an alternative solution had been required. The working should take care of the sound, and that was the important part. I glanced down and shrugged. Only thirty feet or so. I’d fallen down worse before. I leapt. Wings would make this much easier, admittedly, but they would require drawing deeper on my mantle. Besides, I mused even as the ground came ever closer, I’d been meaning to find out something. If I could turn myself into outright mist, finer manipulations should be possible as well. I landed on the stone in a crouch, having meddled with my legs, and found mixed results. Strengthening my knees had succeeded at making sure they wouldn’t break, which had been my main objective. Sadly, it’d also torn up whatever smoke and mirrors passed for my leg muscles these days. Half a win, I decided, adjusting my cloak where the fall had put it in disarray. The muscles were already reforming. Next time I’d have to see if I could make the entire legs solid without rupturing my insides above them.

The others clustered around me without a word. I’d made it clear that the closest to me they stood, the easiest it was to keep up the glamour. Our way through was still open, thank the Gods. Dwarven forces had been placed to prevent the drow in the spire from escaping, not occupy the whole cavern, which was too large for that regardless. It meant that if we kept close to the wall on the left side, we avoided coming close to the battle. In a strange and silent pilgrimage we tread through moss and mushrooms until we were hugging the wall and began our way through. My control was not fine enough to erase our footsteps, I’d warned them. It took longer to go through while avoiding leaving visible marks on the ground, but there was no other option. I’d never kept a working going this long before, and now I knew why I’d unconsciously avoided it: the longer I did the more I could feel Winter’s influence creeping into my mind,  even if I was drawing no deeper on my power. Fortunately, Akua was there for me to shunt the influence into. It was almost tenser to stalk through unseen than take part in the fighting, I thought. Battle I knew well, but this? It wasn’t my wheelhouse. It took us most an hour to get across, and by then there was not a single living drow left.

I’d not had a good look at the last of the fighting, but the dwarven heavy infantry hadn’t been shaken by the doomed charge of the Mighty in the slightest. The regulars had gone up the slope afterwards, into the hollow part, and soon after the screams had gone silent. There’d never been a chance the drow would win this, and the outer rings were supposed to be the weakest part of the Everdark, but if this was a sign of what was to come… Well, I didn’t fancy the chances of the drow as a whole to turn back this invasion. I allowed the thought to fade as we neared our chosen tunnel. Archer hadn’t had a chance to take a look inside, but she’d noted it was the most lightly guarded. Ivah had gone through one close to it, on its way to the Gloom, and assured us that after another large abandoned cavern it led into a mess of small paths. Enough that it would be more or less impossible to keep an eye on all of them. It was a detour, taking us to the northeast when the quicker route would have been straight north, but a few additional days were well worth keeping out of sight. I was an old hand at disaster, by now, so my nerves grew more ragged as we neared the exit. If this was going to fail, it was going to fail now.

There were dwarves near the tunnel, but only a small company. Less than a hundred. It was my first time coming this close to their kind, but I did not slow to take a better look. Distractions were the enemy of this not-fight. I did note they were regulars, however. Those in layered armour might not be too common. More importantly, they were dawdling near the tunnel and not blocking the exit. We passed them by, step by step. I felt a dim spike of fear when a pair began talking loudly in some dwarven tongue, but they began brawling not long after and I let out a relieved breath. My shoulders loosened as we left them behind, allowing myself a strangled laugh. I wasn’t a fool, of course. I wouldn’t drop the glamour until we were much further in. But it looked like – no, I wasn’t going to finish that fucking thought. Never count the chickens, Catherine, even when they’re hatched. The Gods will shove them back in the fucking eggs just to spite you. Being absolutely still in the middle of the metaphorical woods, we pressed on. Archer took the lead, Ivah at her side, and they took us through a handful of short passages in quick succession. It was maybe another quarter hour until we reached the large cavern Ivah had mentioned.

Abandoned was something of a misnomer, as it was currently full of dwarves. Slightly more problematic was the way my glamour was ripped apart before we even entered. Runes shone on the tunell walls, panes of force fell down around us and dwarven yells sounded in the distance. I looked up angrily.

“Can I really not have a single chicken?” I complained. “You tight-fisted assholes.”

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90 thoughts on “Chapter 58: Quiet

  1. Jane

    Look at the bright side, Cat; you wanted more information on Dwarven forces, and now you’re going to see them firsthand! You missed most of the massacre, so this is the perfect opportunity to make up for it!

    Joking aside, it was a real missed opportunity to leave Thief behind. Pinching some of that fancy, expensive armor could totally have solved Callow’s budget issues, and swiping a siege engine or two could have really advanced Callow’s military science – if they were willing to risk exposing the fact that they were the ones who stole it to the rest of the dwarves, of course. Ah, well, not like they knew they’d be seeing dwarves down here…

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Jane

        You can pry out the gemstones from the armor, and sell those separately. Nobody’ll think you were crazy enough to steal a bunch of rubies from dwarves,

        It’s a waste of fine craftsmanship, but it would still solve their money problems.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Dylan Tullos

          Jane:

          “Stupid enough to steal from dwarves” is a popular saying in Calernia.

          It’s deliberate exaggeration, of course, because no one is actually stupid enough to steal from dwarves. This is a people famous for their disproportionate retribution. One gemstone could cost you one town; one dead dwarf could cost you Laure.

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          1. Jane

            Yes, but they’re in the middle of Drow territory at the moment, a place that no surface-dweller has bothered going to in centuries (Ranger aside) – if they were to wait until the Dwarves made camp, and Thief yoinked a few suits of fancy armor under cover of invisibility, wouldn’t it be far more likely to for the Dwarves to blame the Drow than a human they never saw?

            Afterwards, they could recut the gems (just as an additional precaution), and sell them in Mercantis, using Thief’s agents in Procer for further caution.

            With this much money (even accounting for the fact that Cat was likely exaggerating their value, and the consequences of unloading so many gems on the market at once), she could easily levy Callow’s soldiers and import enough grain to avoid crippling the country; even better, with one of the continent’s most fertile countries not producing for the year, she’d probably end up causing famine across everywhere else on the continent, and be one of the only countries in fighting shape next year.

            The gold would be a more reliable ally than the Drow, and if she could return home after shadowing the Dwarven army for a single night, that would be far less likely to result in conflict than going on a long quest like she is now. Don’t you agree?

            I mean, setting aside the actual story for a moment and the fact that Cat’s going to find some important things down there, of course.

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            1. RanVor

              It’s all very cool and stuff, but you’re missing a very important point: it’s not about money. The people who are so eager to be recruited now aren’t going to be stationed in the outposts. They’re going to be thrown into what might very well be the bloodiest meatgrinder since Triumphant. Even with allies, the casualties are going to be horrific. And when they die, who is going to take care of those fields? You can buy enough grain to last a few years, but it won’t do you any good when your workforce is crippled for generations.

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              1. And the fact that no one would sell grain to her if she was an enemy, and she is an enemy to absolutely everyone. No one would willingly give Callow grain if they needed the supplies themselves.

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              2. Jane

                There’s already a ton of refugees from Praes, and soon there are going to be a ton of refugees from Procer; if Cat were to establish communities for them in her own country, she should be able to replenish the losses. Being a Villain is a bit of a barrier, true, as is the traditional hostility between Procer and Callow – but when the Dead King is claiming principality after principality, that has a way of ending up overlooked.

                That aside, though, the diminished workforce isn’t as problematic as it seems – Callow’s ability to grow food decreases with the population she’d be sending to war, true, but so too does their demand for food. The only reason she’d need to import food at all is because not all of them will end up dead in the war. And it’s true that this will hamper Callow’s ability to export food, leaving them with little in the way of currency… But it’s unlikely that the imports Callow would require would exceed them amount they could sell a few sets of gems for. So long as she doesn’t go crazy with the spending once peace is restored, she can probably sit things out for a generation.

                That said, though, my argument was tailored along those lines mainly because I know how much Dylan disapproves for seeking an alliance with the Drow, so I thought I might as well portray this as an alternative :p . They say you ought know your audience, no?

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              1. Jane

                Eh, this is all assuming that Cat fights Praes – she won’t need an army at all, elsewise. After she does, Praes won’t be in any shape to fight Callow for a few years either, and the reduced food exports will hit Praes harshly, limiting their ability to invade until Callow recovers.

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  2. Droughtbringer

    Interesting build up to next chapter as we either see the start of the Great Dwarven/Callowan war, or Cat actually learning to Negotiate. Either should be interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Isa Lumitus

          It would only be a war crime if it was actually used in war.

          More likely, it would be considered a crime against alcohol, which might actually be worse.

          Like

    1. Yotz

      “Greetings, fellow dwarves. We are your fellow dwarves, just like you and totally not spies, stand here doing normal dwarven things – like grumbling, and also grudging – just as we, dwarves, do. Pass along, fellow dwarves, there’s nothing to see here.”

      Liked by 6 people

    2. Jonnnney

      To be fair she is probably better suited than most. Her knowledge of the dead king’s plans, origin, and defenses would be a decent bargaining chip. Plus with her sappers, her fae, and her woe she has loads of experience wrangling insane groups of people handling powers mortal men weren’t meant to wield.

      Like

  3. Yotz

    And so, after once again sifting through the Maxims, I think I have found a suitable one for the diplomatic solution to the puzzle of future short encounter:

    A soft answer turneth away wrath. Once wrath is looking the other way, shoot it in the head.

    Liked by 9 people

          1. Yotz

            As Major said.
            № 17, in particular, is a variation on Murphy’s Law, and № 70 goes thusly

            Failure is not an option – it is mandatory. The option is whether or not to let failure be the last thing you do.

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  4. Cat clearly needs to practice her glamour more. Fae monarchs are the kind of entities who show up unannounced to parties in the freaking Tower, not who get caught with their pants down by a few hastily wrought runes.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Yotz

      Do you come from the Kingdom Under
      Where Mighty flee and Dwarves plunder
      Can’t you see, can’t you hear their thunder?
      You better run, you better take cover!

      PS: Hey, Sheoldred!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Rook

    You’re good at cutting chickens in half, Catherine, not sneakily hatching them.

    Thief has better odds of successfully assassinating a main antagonist than a foundling stealth mission being anything but a complete disaster.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dylan Tullos

      Rook:

      “Foundling stealth mission” not recognized by Autocorrect.

      Did you mean “Foundling stabs everyone”, “Foundling burns everything”, or “Exploding suicide goats”?

      Like

  6. Oui

    Can somebody explain why does Cat insist that bringing the drow to her kingdom is a good idea? They are the losing side in a war of extinction and they have proven themselves to be practically useless. What kind of mental gymnastics does she do to justify angering their continent’s superpower in exchange for backstabbing rabble that gets stronger by killing other races? Say, Callowan civilians? It says quite a lot about her when Akua is the voice of reason.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Cassiemouse

      My thoughts that are that if Cat can beat the Priestess of the Night she could use the principle of usurpation to replace the Night with Winter which would spread through out the entire nation and turn the Drow into an army of winter.

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    2. Daemion

      Each Mighty is a match for a new Named and the rest of the drow make for excellent fodder. That they are useless against a proper dwarven army doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be a match against humans. The shadow teleport ability they have through the Night is quite nice as well.
      Cat’s goal is to have enough bodies to absorb the inevitable losses of war and she’d prefer if those weren’t Callowans.
      The drow being backstabbing assholes makes it easier for her to sacrifice them later on.

      Like

      1. Dylan Tullos

        Daemion:

        Humans have armies.

        Drows have mobs.

        Armies beat mobs, especially when the mob’s leaders spend more time planning to kill each other than they do trying to fight outside enemies.

        I don’t doubt that Catherine would be willing to sacrifice the drow; I also don’t doubt that the drow could figure that out and find a way to backstab her first. I suspect Malicia would be more than happy to help them with that.

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      2. Yotz

        Drow are warriors. Armies consist of soldiers. One warrior will kill one soldier with ease. Ten warriors against ten soldiers – half and half outcome, hard to predict. One hundred soldiers will exterminate one hundred warriors with trivial effort. Try to field warriors as a footsoldiers, and all you’ll ever get will be a massacre. They are by nature incapable to efficiently function in large groups, be the reason behind this incorrect usage of them by the HQ, or plain old prideful arrogance of a supposedly superior fighters. For the examples I’ll refer any curious soul to Battle of Agincourt for the former, and Battle of Shiroyama for the latter.

        For less truistic approach, Drow would be ideal special force units. Single persons or small groups capable of operating with great degree of independence, highly effective in stealth and disruption, guerrilla warfare, harassment and terror campaigns. Highly specialized instrument with a quite narrow field of usage. One should never use SEAL teams nor Ranger Regiments for garrison duty and/or direct wall-on-wall confrontations.

        Teel deer: basically, Drow are discount Faeries.

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    3. Jane

      They’ve been useless against dwarves, widely considered to be a power that’s completely suicidal to go against, and against Cat herself, a literal goddess. Against humans or undead, they’re probably fine, though she might need to give them proper weapons first.

      Furthermore, the raiding party she fought were the most worthless of the worthless, drained of all their power and sent out on a suicide mission to redeem themselves – and they still had a nifty trick that would arguably put them on par with the Doaine (butchered the spelling, my apologies), who would be considered the elite of Cat’s forces. The settlement that the dwarves effortlessly destroyed were also considered the outcasts of Drow society, those who had been pushed out from the power struggles that define Drow existence, and who settled for merely surviving.

      And, well, we didn’t actually see these Drow fight – the dwarves pretty much just poured lava on them. They might have had some nifty tricks, or just been darned good fighters, but… We wouldn’t know. They only had a few minutes in which to figure out how to stop what was, in essence, a bombardment with napalm – that they failed doesn’t really speak that poorly of their skills, just of how terrifying it is to fight dwarves.

      Also, she hasn’t really said anything about bringing them to Callow – just noted that finding a new home for them is pretty good leverage when the dwarves are hell-bent on driving them from the underground. Also, there’s little reason to think that the dwarves will care what happens to the Drow, so long as they’re no longer in the Dwarves (newly claimed) caves.

      All in all, now that she’s come this far, she might as well see what she can salvage. I mean, the alternative is probably to wreck Callow for a generation – it’s probably worth the risk, so long as she doesn’t end up recognized if she ends up fighting any dwarves.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Digitize27

    Hmm, at first glance I thought the steel ballista might have been cannons, but Cat would definitely have commented on the sound they made, so I imagine they’re more like giant ball-bearing slingshots. (Besides, I think gunpowder technology might be red-letter worthy)
    The giant grappling hooks are interesting, in that the Dwarves brought them along at all. Seems they have some fortresses they want to be tearing down. This really is a full-scale invasion, not just an incursion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jonnnney

      The kingdom under is the biggest dog on town, but even they aren’t strong enough to fuck with the gnomes so gunpowder based weaponry isn’t an option.

      Like

  8. Aston

    And Catherine manages to beat the entire Dwarven army.

    In a drinking contest.

    In reality she’s a god who scares the hell out of them and they have been in fact invited by the Named Drow to weed out the weak.

    Invited. Invaders.

    Time for Cat to show her diplomacy skills.

    By confusing everyone.

    A young woman pretending she’s not actually a God on the same level as the Dead King.

    Vote for this web serial! Vote for greatest fiction!

    Like

  9. John

    Why are you being silly, Catherine? Now that the alarm’s been raised, there’s no point holding back on Winter, so just take a shortcut through Arcadia to the center of Drow territory.

    Like

  10. Dylan Tullos

    In a shocking surprise, the terrible plan was in fact terrible.

    After several chapters of detailed discussions on how the drow were useless and the dwarves were terrifying, we finally saw exactly how the drow are less organized than peasant levies, while dwarves make the Legions of Terror look like a drunk in a bar fight.

    Catherine is now risking a fight with the mightiest living nation in Calernia for the sake of an “army” with no discipline or loyalty. If she did recruit the drow, it would take Malicia about five seconds to make them a better offer and turn the Mighty against Callow.

    This is quite possibly the stupidest thing Catherine could be doing.

    Like

      1. Metrux

        Uhh… Guys… She is imprisoned right now, her fae powers just been ‘canceled’, so her only way out is diplomacy… Something no one has ever done with dwarfs… If we assume she can this time make some negotiation… Wasn’t the absurdness of negotiating with dwarfs the reason they are out of the table for alliances? They are not Good, so maybe this could even end with her having some dwarven troops assisting her defences.

        Like

        1. Yotz

          I would go not with assist but with a trade of sort. Cat spares dwarves the effort of continuing costly campaign by taking all surviving drow away with her, and dwarves agree to not murderize her on the spot.

          Which reminds me. We know that anything below certain depth is considered a property of Kingdom Under. But what about mountains?
          I mean, would remnants of drow be able to settle inside the Whitecaps without aggravating the dwarves beyond the point of no return? Because this way Cat would be able to create a buffer state between Callow and Procer, with her and the Wild Hunt being a stick weighty enough to prod inevitable drowish (drowan?) incursions into the needed direction.

          Like

          1. Dylan Tullos

            Yotz:

            The drow are murderous slavers. Even if Catherine was able to point them in the “right” direction, they’d be leveling up by murdering Proceran peasants.

            The drow would inevitably get stronger, and just as inevitably turn on Catherine. Malicia wouldn’t have any difficulty convincing them to backstab their saviour, and Catherine would soon find herself fighting on two fronts.

            Like

            1. Yotz

              >peasants
              Same peasants who are the main source of proceran fantassins and materiels for the invading army. Who are also either murderous slavers, or murderous slaves, using your definitions. At which point such action would be acceptable, if outright evil.

              >Drow growing stronger.
              Just like they grew into the strongest nation of Calernia after Triumphant burned them, I suppose. Next point.

              >saviour
              Please, remind me where or when I ever talked about any kind of gratitude from the Drow towards Cat in the case of hypothetical “salvation”.

              Putting that aside – chiefly because you wouldn’t be able to provide anything but straw – Malicia is far away and wields little to no personal power, only the power of institutions. To your regular Mighty she is a meat. Murderous Queen who can toy with any Mighty like it was a simple meat, and her retinue who will have no trouble in otdrowing the drow, are much closer. And they wouldn’t have any difficulty convincing drow to backstab their new praesi benefactor in cruelest way possible.

              In case you haven’t noticed, Callow is already fighting on two fronts. Situation is dire enough that unleashing the Hidden Horror was considered an acceptable option. Arguably, Drow are better variant in regards to all things humane. Yes, they presence in the Whitecaps would lead to future conflict someday. Their absence in contemporary conflict, however, may lead to the absence of Callow, making the point of potential future conflict moot.

              Their martial prowess or usefulness, though, is an open question. From the story so far, they wouldn’t be able to serve Cat as intended cannon fodder. They are not without their uses, though – and, as a side boon, Cat wouldn’t have much grief over the drow killing procerans and procerans killing drow – whoever dies, Callow wins.

              Like

      2. Dylan Tullos

        RanVor:

        Having just been caught by the dwarves, Catherine risks a violent confrontation with a nation that could casually destroy every city in Callow. “Do nothing” would be a better idea than “provoke the notoriously violent and racist superpower”. That said, I do have a better idea.

        My plan is for Catherine to start actively assisting the Grand Alliance in the coming fight against the Dead King. She might be “Arch-Heretic of the East” for now, but when the dead start coming south, I suspect that the nations of Good will be willing to accept any help they can get. Catherine can save countless lives with portals and show Procer and the Levant how Callow is still committed to fighting the good fight.

        It’s funny how easy it is to come up with good ideas when you’re trying to help people. Catherine should try it sometime, rather than trying to recruit an entire nation of Stupid Evil murderhobos as part of a “plan” that looks dumber by the day.

        Like

        1. Cat tried to join the side of Good. Then her attempts at peace got thrown back in her face, and then she got declared Arch-heretic of the East over Malicia, when every previous Arch-heretic of the East has been the reigning Dread Emperor or Empress.
          Oh, and basically all of Callow got declared heretical at the same time.

          Also, with regards to Procer, Cat’s current priority is holding her borders while she goes after Malicia.
          Cat has to deal with Malicia and Praes in a permanent, or at least lasting, way before she can do more than hold her western border.

          Even ignoring the whole Arch-heretic of the East and associated issues, Cat has higher and more immediate priorities than the Dead King invading Procer – Malicia just tried to gut the hell out of Callowan government and military institutions. The Dead King may be zombie army marching down the road towards her, but Malicia is the facehugger jumping at her now.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. RanVor

          Ok, some most likely consequences of your “brilliant” plan: the Callowans are bled as a living shield against the undead because it’s the only thing those dirty heretics deserve, Callow is eviscerated by Malicia with impunity, Cat is deposed and executed for ultra-heresy, Callowan lands are partitioned and turned into principalities, Callowans rebel, brutal purges to eliminate the resistance, Callow is gone forever.

          Cordelia didn’t put much effort into hiding what she intends to do after pressuring Cat into fighting her battles for her. And the fate of Callow is not only hers to decide.

          Like

          1. Dylan Tullos

            RanVor:

            Most likely consequences of Catherine’s current plan; Catherine is distracted fighting against the Dead King, and comes back to find that her drow “allies” have murdered half of Callow to level up. The last time she made a deal with Classic Evil, Akua killed everyone in Liesse; do you think that the drow are less treacherous than Diabolist?

            Everyone is going to have to bleed to stop the Dead King. If Callow tries to avoid doing their part, they’ll just guarantee that they stand alone when Procer is defeated and the dead come for them. The living can stand together or they can hang separately.

            It’s worth noting that Cordelia’s people have spent thousands of years fighting against the Dead King, and they don’t whine about being “bled as a living shield”. They’re proud of doing their duty, even if they think the rest of Procer needs to pitch in and help.

            Cat’s well-being is not important to anyone, least of all her. This isn’t about her happiness or future. It’s about what’s best for Callow, and what’s best for Callow is not being a neighbor of the Dead King.

            Procer can’t just annex Callow; their allies in the Dominion and Ashur don’t want to see them with more territory. And after fighting the Dead King, they won’t be in a position to annex anyone. But even if it did somehow end with Callow divided into principalities, Callowans have fought a successful rebellion against the Principate before. Callow wouldn’t be “gone forever”, because they could simply rise up and overthrow their foreign overlords.

            When one group of humans conquers another, rebellion is always possible. For that matter, life goes on; Callowans could still farm and live under the Principate. If the Dead King conquered Callow, he’d kill everyone in the country and raise their corpses to join his army. That’s what Catherine should be afraid of, not those mean Crusaders who don’t want Callow ruled by a Villain.

            Like

              1. RanVor

                Actually, the problem of the untrustworthiness of the drow is laughably easy to resolve by dropping them in the middle of the Wasteland. Nobody expects them, nobody has any idea what they’re capable of – a perfect distraction. They will have enough of an initial advantage over the unprepared enemy to inflict sufficient losses on the Legions loyal to Malicia, giving Cat time to prepare for battles against Procer and/or the Dead King. And there’s no way they will survive to get to Callow, so no risk there.

                Like

            1. Cat isn’t going to be fighting the Dead King until she’s settled the score with Malicia and Praes/the High Lords.
              She literally cannot afford to do anything other than hold her western (Proceran) border while she turns east against Malicia. Fortunately, she has the Whitecap Mountains and decent choke points to cover the west.

              The Dead King is a problem, a huge one even, but he’s down the road, while Malicia is an imminent threat who just tried to gut Callow’s military and civilian infrastructure. With some success.

              Like

  11. RanVor

    To counter all the doom and gloom that has taken over the comments, I present you my opinion:

    I’m reasonably confident it’ll all work out for metanarrative reasons.

    Firstly, it looks to me that we’re starting to get to the part of the book that contains the climactic confrontation, and Cat is still very much in deep shit. Therefore, she is bound to get some support soon, possibly after mutilating herself again.

    Secondly, she already failed in negotiations once, and the Creation abhors repetition or something like that. So it’s unlikely to happen again so soon.

    Thirdly, she is in a hopeless situation with her back against the wall and a knife to her throat. The narrative is so obviously in her favor it’s almost impossible for her to fail.

    Lastly, we know there is one more book coming, so Callow obviously has to survive somehow, and no other solution has presented itself so far.

    Like

    1. Dylan Tullos

      I prefer it when Catherine makes actual plans that might work, rather than relying on Protagonist Armor to save her from the consequences of provoking the dwarves.

      Like

  12. Dreamer

    This new moralistic Cat has been kinda weird to me for the past few chapters. She refuses to kill her drow prisoners in cold blood, for some reason, despite her killing those would be rapists from way back. Furthermore, she dropped a magic fae lake on people so I don’t really feel like she has room to judge here either? I feel like her character’s either becoming inconsistent, or it might be the redemption thing that hasn’t been mentioned in forever.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Isa Lumitus

      You do have a point about the redemption thing. This might be related to Cat’s deal with the Gray Pilgrim.

      That said, this doesn’t seem that out there from my existing view of her. I’m reminded of Worm’s tagline, ‘doing the wrong thing for the right reason’. I’m also reminded of Akua’s advice that Cat’s hesitance to jump off the slippery slope might be making things worse for everyone but her.

      Like

    2. Jane

      It’s easy for Cat to do the right (wrong?) thing when her back is to the wall, and she’s struggling to survive; when she’s the underdog, she does what she must, whether it’s knife a few people who would otherwise evade justice, drop a lake on an invading army, join the Grand Alliance or unleash the Hidden Horror on an unsuspecting world.

      When she’s in a position of strength, though, it’s a struggle for her to hold on to her humanity, and avoid becoming the greater evil that she’s fought against.

      In short, she really doesn’t know what to do with success – whether it’s reforming Callow’s institutions into something new (her first plan was a dismal failure, and her current plan is literally just to hand the problem off to someone else), or dealing with really vicious prisoners of war who haven’t, properly speaking, done anything wrong yet. When her options are limited, the path is clear to her; when she is free to do as she wishes, she struggles with the consequences of her decisions.

      Like

      1. Xinci

        It may be due to the fact that Cat is not”more” yet. She doesn’t have enough of a presence *reality* and narrative wise to really be able to cover all the bases and make a change in the world. If she can make those changes in herself and a local area however she may be able to change(you know…construct) enough that some of her plans may work. But general thing is she has plenty of growth left if she wants to form a solution which she is still lacking in ability to do and quibbling(not entirely good, not entirely bad but a path has to be made) over the metaphysical path she has to take to get any better. The Night might help her, it in many ways is kind of like a Evil version of what the Gods Above showed the White Knight I think. The information available could be quite useful in forming her into a better….”solution”? Part of her current problem is not having enough awareness/information like Black does of what the world around her is, perhaps with the Night she will have more success doing so or at least get someone else to do so for her.

        Like

    3. Sylwoos

      Cat lost the right to be offended by a little bit of molten rock when she made burning people with inextinguishable magic fire as her go-to strategy.

      Like

    4. There’s a big, biiiiig difference there.

      One of those is killing people you don’t really know, whose circumstances you don’t understand, who for all you know hate the system they’re a part of (which you also don’t really understand), and who might not be a threat to others if you can just find the right way to handle them. Especially when you walked onto their turf. “Killing those who try to kill you is justified” loses a lot of moral validity when you break into a khans-era Mongol warrior’s tent in the middle of the night and they accost you with a sword. And yeah, sure, maybe Cat killing the drow is justified. But it’s genuinely a worthwhile question to ask if it is or not.

      The rapist and his enabler on the other hand … Well, that’s the thing about rape. There’s *never* a justification for it. And in that chapter the rapist clearly showed that he knew what he was doing was wrong, that he was a repeat offender, that he and his enabler were willing to kill innocents to protect themselves, that they abused their authority to do so, and that they would almost certainly do it again. You could not ask for a more cut and dry case of “these fuckers need to be removed from the picture in whatever way you can manage”. Which is what Cat did.

      And frankly, if your conflation of the two makes Cat’s actions seem confusing to you, I don’t think it’s that Cat’s moral system is messed up, I think it’s that you’re moral compass is a bit askew.

      Like

  13. Isa Lumitus

    I’m with the crowd that still doesn’t understand why Cat thinks that the Drow are worth negotiating with. On the bright side, I can at least see some good reasons for her to continue. If she can steal whatever artifact either makes the Gloom, or the passes through it, she will have a good bargaining chip.

    Either of those could make or break the dwarven plan to encircle the Dead King.

    Like

  14. Xinci

    This is truly a exemplary chance for cat to try her code of regulation. She said what she could not break she would regulate and the drow are a prime canidate for doing so. If she can broker a proper deal with the mistress of the Night, she could refine the tenets to something more worthile. The night is a excellent testing,refining, and evolving tool. This also depends on narritive wise, what kind of artifact is most likely being refined over time by the Night’s tenets/experiments.
    If Cat can properly regulate the drow and transform them into a workforce under her she could have a excellentely adaptive unit of troops and workers. I will note several things, the drow are warriors because they are a composite experiment on getting skill and information into specific(the most worthy and therefore mighty) indivduals…the problem is its not enough. They need more and better institutions to actually become mighty as a race…which cat(and winter) can most likely manage far better than their current testing methods.

    Also suprised no one is making any theories on how to kill the dwarves, for example how well could you unsurp control of their runes to make that heavy infantry collapse in on itself? How vulnerable are they to air flow, is that armour of theirs prepared for extreme cold after extreme heat?
    Basic thing being=If cat finds a proper stipulation to bind the night and create new tenets she could forge the drow into something new and wonderfully effective. The main problem comes with how to properly integrate that troupe into her powerbase or at the very least to keep a good controllable area.

    Like

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